The Senate on Thursday passed an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law, an action that senators on both sides of the aisle agreed was long overdue.
Senators voted 81-17 to pass the Every Child Achieves Act, which transfers more decision-making power to state and local authorities.
While No Child Left Behind was passed under former President George W. Bush, the weeklong debate in the Senate over changes to the law was among the least divisive of Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE’s (R-Ky.) six-month tenure as majority leader.
He touted the legislation as the latest example that his party has been able to get the Senate working again ahead of the 2016 elections.
"The pundits told us it would never happen. Republicans and Democrats will never agree on a way to replace No Child Left Behind, they said. But a new Senate that’s back to work is proving them wrong," McConnell said.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who spearheaded the bill, repeatedly thanked Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Biden hits one-year mark in dire straits 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 CDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary MORE (D-Wash.) for their cooperation.
"He's helped to create an environment that permitted this to move in an orderly fashion," he said, thanking Reid again Thursday ahead of the vote.
Education Secretary Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanStripping opportunity from DC's children Catherine Lhamon will make our schools better, fairer, and more just Providing the transparency parents deserve MORE called the passage of the Senate bill "progress," but added that it "should also do more to maintain focus on what matters most.”
"This bill still falls short of truly giving every child a fair shot at success by failing to ensure that parents and children can count on local leaders to take action when students are struggling to learn," he added.
But the legislation wasn't without controversy.
Reid threatened earlier this week that Democrats would block the bill unless they were granted more amendment votes.
"We are not going to allow cloture to succeed unless we have a pathway forward on these amendments," he said on Monday evening.
Alexander was able to get a deal on allowing for dozens of additional amendments, many from Democrats.
Reid did fire a closing salvo Thursday, saying that the Senate could have passed an overhaul years ago if Republicans had cooperated.
A group of conservative Republicans, including presidential contender Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas), had pushed to use the legislation to crack down on "sanctuary cities" in the wake of the recent killing of Kathryn Steinle. The suspect in the shooting of the 32-year-old is an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times.
Had Cruz’s gambit succeeded, it would have threatened Democratic support and likely derailed the bill.
Republican Sens. Cruz, Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 I'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back Rand Paul cancels DirecTV subscription after it drops OAN MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPut partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (Fla.), who are running for president, as well as Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (Mo.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Alabama GOP gears up for fierce Senate primary clash Senate Republicans call on Biden to lift vaccine mandate for truckers crossing Canadian border MORE (Idaho), Steve Daines (Mont.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeePut partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Eight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs MORE (Kansas), James Risch (Idaho), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Supreme Court allows lawsuits against Texas abortion ban Rapper French Montana talks opioid epidemic, immigration on Capitol Hill MORE (S.C.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (La.) bucked McConnell to vote against the bill.
The 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which included a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, expired in 2007. Congress has not passed legislation to extend it since then.
Supporters of the Senate bill said the overhaul gets rid of the teach-to-the-test mentality that they argue has dominated public schools since No Child Left Behind's inception.
The legislation also includes updates from dozens of senators in reaction to recent events.
For example, a provision from Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Manchin, Sinema join GOP to sink filibuster change for voting bill Desperate Dems signal support for cutting Biden bill down in size MORE (D-Va.) would require schools that receive federal funding to report what they are doing to educate students about safe relationships.
The measure comes after Kaine met with a group at the University of Virginia in the wake of now debunked Rolling Stone article about rape at the university.
The bill now heads to a conference with House lawmakers, who passed a more conservative overhaul earlier this month.
Alexander tried to downplay any potential conflict.
"I've had numerous discussions with Chairman Kline," he said. "We know better than to try to make our institutions to do the same thing. ... There's some important differences and we'll have to work those out."
Even if lawmakers are able to reconcile the bill, it's unclear if President Obama will sign it, with the administration expressing opposition to both the House and Senate bills.
This story was last updated at 5:12 p.m.